The Hong Kong Filmography - 1977 - 1997
A Complete Reference to 1,100 Hong Kong Films
 By John Charles
$75.00 - Hardcover
351 Pages

This remarkably comprehensive collection of Hong Kong film reviews (1,100 of them) from John Charles (film critic for Video Watchdog) is both an incredible resource as well as an enjoyable and informative read. The effort that must have gone into this work is simply hard to imagine. Not only to have watched all these films – many of which were no doubt painful to sit through – but to have taken meticulous notes on each of them feels like a Herculean task. With 1,100 films just about every well-known film (within the time frame of the book) that you can think of is covered here as well as many very obscure selections.

A typical review is some two to three paragraphs in length that contains the plot summary and John’s opinion on the film. There are also often little points of interest and trivia included. One thing that amazes me is how John can often identify what other films the music of a movie was “borrowed” from. Along with each film there is also: the literal Chinese name translated into English, the production company, the crew and the cast, the year, the length of the film, what format it was seen in (and whether it has English subs or not) and a 1-10 rating. Clearly for a HK moviephile, this is extremely valuable information to have access to.

The cast listings are simply the best and most complete available. I can’t even begin to count how many actors I can finally put a name to after having seen them in many films. There is an index that allows you to follow up on any actor you are interested in. One thing I would have loved would have been filmograpies of each of the actors in the back, but I suppose this would have added a large number of pages.

The writing tends to be very objective and modulated, rarely overly effusive in either praise or criticism. I am not sure if this is a Canadian trait (!) or more likely a journalistic attempt to keep any biases from being too obvious – though a few do slowly creep out after reading hundreds of the reviews. In line with the objectivity being shown is the rating of the films. I was initially a bit taken aback by the low ratings that John often gives to many of my favorite films (and I would guess that if all the films were averaged, the rating would be somewhere slightly below a 5) – but again after reading many reviews a consistent pattern emerges. Unlike fanboys such as myself who tend to give higher ratings to films that have favorite stars – John bases it entirely on his perception of the film. If it is an average HK film it gets a 5 – even if it may have been an enjoyable viewing experience. Often in the text, he will point out a good performance or say it was a lot of fun to watch – but still rank it as average or below. Of course, one of my favorite genres – the Girls with Guns – tends to get scorched pretty badly (though he clearly likes many of the actresses). He does give out a few perfect 10’s – to such as Ashes of Time, Bride with White Hair and The Killer – but they are few and far between as I suppose they should be.

The downside to the book? First, a cover that is god-awful and looks like it belongs on some low-grade kung fu manual and secondly, the price tag. $75 is a lot to spend on any book but unless someone comes along with an even more comprehensive book (not likely anytime soon), this book should stand as the best reference book on HK film for years to come.

Check out his site for some examples of his writing and what is included in a review (though the book includes no pictures and does not focus on the quality of the transfer as his Video Watchdog reviews do).